Example of parallel 6-3 chords

In this passage by Handel on the downbeat of bar 2 there is an incomplete subdominant chord. It says in the text of my textbook "Harmony and Voice Leading" page 330 that "a continuo player would complete this chord". If a continuo player plays the full chord then why not just notate the bassline? Why are there 3 voices in this score and who are they meant to be played by?

  • What are you talking about? The bassline is notated? I see a 5 3 there, don't you?
    – Gupta
    Mar 11, 2022 at 8:13
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    @Gupta Armani means why not notate only the bassline.
    – Aaron
    Mar 11, 2022 at 8:23
  • @Aaron Because root position chords are, by standard, not notated. The purpose is simple: Since they are the most common they do not need to be noted as it is determined to be understood as such. It saves ink.
    – Gupta
    Mar 15, 2022 at 16:12

2 Answers 2

  1. Why would the continuo player complete the chord? Because the continuo player, reading from figured bass, has no reason not to. You see an E flat with no figures, you play an E flat chord; those are the rules of figured bass.*
  2. "Why not just notate the bassline?" Perhaps there's some confusion here over the term "bassline." It is notated; it's what we see here as the bass clef. If you mean "why not notate everything the continuo player is supposed to play," that's another matter. And the practice is that there's a lot of freedom; they can voice that E flat chord however they want, as long as the E flat is in the bass. Continuo parts are not written out note for note.
  3. "Why are there three voices in this score and who are they meant to be played by?" This is not a "score," it's just an excerpt, condensed into grand staff. Here's a score. A little hunting shows the passage in question to be in the last movement, on p. 20 of the pdf: enter image description here ... and we see that, although there are 9 parts at that moment, most of them double others. To see who's playing what, go up a page to 19. In particular, the 1st and 2nd violins (and 1st oboe) are all playing the same thing. Though the textbook excerpt doesn't show everything: The 2nd viola part is not represented (though even it doesn't provide a B flat to that E flat chord).

* Well, the "rules" of figured bass aren't all that binding, actually. A smart and sensitive continuo player does not in fact ignore all the other parts and just stare at the bass line with blinders on. And no, there's no rule that the continuo player must provide every member of every chord. They might drop certain notes out for a spare or quiet texture. However, this happens to be at a "loud" moment, when all the instruments are playing, and the continuo would almost certainly play the full chord. And an especially observant player might even provide the fifth of the chord specifically because they notice it's missing from the other parts.

  • What I meant was why notate the top two voices if the continuo player plays from the bass but I see now... so these 3 parts come from the complete score and seeing the 3 voices would help the continuo player choose what voicing to use for the complete chord right?
    – user35708
    Mar 7, 2022 at 18:10
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    @armani Yes, and much more, like "Oh, here comes one part playing by itself for a solo, I should play more quietly." Or "The solo holds a whole note; I can fill it in by ornamenting a bit." Mar 7, 2022 at 18:13
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    @armani "why notate the top two voices": because it is a pedagogical example in a textbook. None of the performance materials would look like that.
    – phoog
    Mar 11, 2022 at 10:11
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    Andy: I reckon most players would play a c rather than a b flat. The original (?) parts have no figures there (see my answer). Do you have access to a library with the HHA? Can you check the kritische Bericht to see what it says about sources, especially for the figures?
    – phoog
    Mar 11, 2022 at 11:19

If a continuo player plays the full chord then why not just notate the bassline? Why are there 3 voices in this score and who are they meant to be played by?

Because this is a pedagogical example in a textbook. It is written this way to illustrate a point for the benefit of the reader.

Have a look at the actual performance materials, which IMSLP says were prepared by Johann Georg Pisendel between 1719 and 1725 (click Parts, then either Complete Parts (full SLUB resolution) or Complete Parts (lower resolution)). The continuo part does indeed contain only the bass line, as you suggest.

The page with the solo continuo part for the passage in question is numbered 49 at the bottom center. The part is figured very sparingly, and there are no figures whatsoever for the passage in question. These figures are present in the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe score shown in Andy Bonner's answer, so they must have come from somewhere, and the editor must have had some reason to believe that they might be authentic, but I do not have access to the edition at the moment to see what those reasons might have been.

You've mentioned that you have Ledbetter's book of Handel's continuo exercises. Work through the section on 6 chords and you'll see that in the absence of figures, ii6 would be the most natural thing to play on the downbeat in question, and it's the most likely harmony that anyone playing from Pisendel's parts would have played.

  • Ha!—what do you wanna bet Aldwell and Schachter were looking only at an edited source when they made their assertion? Mar 11, 2022 at 12:56
  • @AndyBonner it seems fairly certain. Also compare "All We, Like Sheep" from Messiah. The "gone astray" passages use similar figures, but only in two parts. If you have a sixth or a fifth with a stepwise descending bass you need to use contrary motion or an awkward leap if the melody is in parallel thirds or tenths because otherwise you have parallel fifths with one voice or the other. Why didn't Handel include a C here? It messes up the voice leading. Why not a B flat? Possibly he wanted a texture where every part changes pitch at every 1/8 note, but more likely it's just the wrong chord.
    – phoog
    Mar 11, 2022 at 13:42

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